Regular exercise reduces the chances of dying from infectious diseases such as COVID-19 by more than a third and makes people 31% less likely to catch the virus, a major study has found.
The world’s first study into the link between exercise and COVID-19 immunity suggested people need to be doing 30 minutes a day, five days a week, or 150 minutes a week of exercise that gets them at least slightly out of breath.
Recommended activities include walking, running, cycling and strengthening exercises.
Such physical activity can also make vaccines up to 40% more effective, an international team of researchers, led by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), said.
The scientists concluded that the recommended amount of exercise can result in a "31% decrease in the risk of infectious disease such as COVID-19, a 37% decrease in the risk of death as a consequence of infectious disease such as COVID-19 and an increase in the efficacy of vaccination against viral disease such as COVID-19".
Project leader, GCU professor of health behaviour dynamics Sebastien Chastin, said they found that physical activity "strengthens the first line of defence of the human immune system and a higher concentration of immune cells".
The "hugely significant" research "could help to cut the number people contracting COVID-19 and dying from it".
It is, he said, "the first piece of research that proves regular physical activity protects you against infectious disease".
He added: "We found that regular exercise where you get out of breath boosts your immunity to infectious disease by 31% and it increases the number of immune cells in the body in the first line of defence which is the mucosal layer of antibodies.
"The clear message is stay active – it’s not only good for your mental and general health but we now have the proof that it is also good for boosting your immunity."
It has to be a regular commitment, he said, with the added benefit that "if you add physical activity to your vaccination programme it increases the potency of the vaccination".
"We are recommending a 12-weeks physical activity programme before vaccination which could result in 20 to 40% more effective immunisation."
The group, which included world-renowned immunologists and epidemiologists, carried out a full-scale systematic review of 16,698 worldwide epidemiological studies published between January 1980 and April 2020.
The research has been published in the Sports Medicine journal.